Virginia men’s basketball Coach Tony Bennett’s defense had finally become second nature to forward Jarred Reuter by the end of Reuter’s freshman season, so over the summer he worked on his scoring. Cavaliers coaches had Reuter shoot jumper after jumper and work on being aggressive in the low post, knowing that if they were to make up for the loss of graduated seniors Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, everyone would need to pitch in.
That hadn’t been a problem as Virginia soared through its first six games of the season. The top of the sixth-ranked Cavaliers’ season box score has operated like a carousel, with six players taking or sharing the scoring lead in as many games. Reuter had his moment in a 74-41 win over Iowa on Saturday, leading all players with a career-high 14 points and nine rebounds. The 6-foot-7 sophomore was a forceful post presence just as his coaches wanted, making 7 of 9 shots from the field, most of which were down low.
Reuter got about 24 hours to enjoy the spotlight. The next day, guards Darius Thompson and London Perrantes led the team with 11 points each in a 63-52 win over Providence to close out the two-day Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Fla.
As Virginia now looks to the meatiest part of its nonconference schedule, hosting Ohio State (6-0) on Wednesday and No. 25 West Virginia (5-1) on Saturday, no one knows who will lead the box score next. For the Cavaliers, that’s good news.
“It’s definitely been fun going into games,” Reuter said. “You don’t know who the guy is that’s going to step up, but you get contributions from everybody and so far there’s always been one or two guys. It’s just been fun, seeing different guys doing that every game.”
Though a half-dozen games is a small sample size and more consistent top scorers will emerge, Bennett and the Cavaliers are embracing their offense-by-committee identity. Born of the absence of scorers such as Brogdon or Gill, the style both demands and creates opportunity for career performances from young players.
Freshman guard Kyle Guy scored 20 points — the most in a game by any Cavaliers player this season — in a rout of Grambling State on Nov. 22. Junior guard Marial Shayok, who seemed due for a breakout season in the NCAA tournament this spring, is the only player to have scored a team high in points twice, with 15 against both UNC Greensboro and Yale.
Thompson could be the strongest candidate to be a go-to player when the offense requires it. The redshirt junior has scored in double figures in all but one game this season and leads the team with a relatively modest 10.0 points per game.
Six others, however, average at least seven points.
“There’s no uncertainty, because we know that if we work hard enough that if we run our offense hard throughout the game, we’re going to get what we need,” Reuter said of the rotating cast of scorers. “We believe in it enough to not have any doubt.”
It’s an early — very early, Bennett says — but promising sign of depth amidst a young roster. Also soothing to Bennett’s mind: The team has done fine after the dismissal of forward Austin Nichols, who led the team with 11 points in his only game, against St. Francis-Brooklyn.
Bennett hopes the pattern holds as Virginia looks toward more challenging opponents.
“We are who we are. The glow or whatever from last year is gone, the potential of an all-American-type player in Austin Nichols is gone,” Bennett said Monday. “So we are who we are, we’re going to become as good as we can, and as I said, it’s going to get done together, and I’m okay with that. Because that’s where we’re at. That’s the hand we’ve got. . . . It could be anybody at any different time and that’s got to be the strength of this team: the balance and the depth, the quality depth.”